IE9 preview

Is it getting hot in here? Or is it just the flames?

In An Early Look At IE9 for Developers, Dean Hachamovitch, General Manager for Internet Explorer, reports on performance progress, web standards progress (border-radius, bits of CSS3, Acid 3 performance), and “bringing the power of PC hardware and Windows to web developers in the browser” (e.g. improved type rendering via Direct2D, a Windows sub-pixel rendering technology that replaces Cleartype).

The reported web standards improvements are encouraging, and better type rendering in IE is a consummation much to be desired. These positive notes notwithstanding, what is most interesting about the post is the political tightrope Microsoft team leaders are still forced to walk.

The world has moved to web standards, and Microsoft knows it must at least try to catch up. Its brilliant browser engineers have been working hard to do so. This web standards support is not optional: having just been spanked hard in Europe for anticompetitive practices, Microsoft knows it is no longer invincible, and cannot continue to use claims of innovation to stifle the overall market or drag its feet on advanced standards compliance.

At the same time, Microsoft’s marketing department wants the public to believe that IE and Windows are profoundly innovative. Thus efforts to catch up to the typographic legibility and beauty of Mac OS X and Webkit browsers are presented, in Dean Hachamovitch’s blog post, as leading-edge innovations. Don’t get me wrong: these improvements are desirable, and Direct2D may be great. I’m not challenging the quality of the hardware and software improvements; I’m pointing out the enforced bragging, which is mandated from on high, and which flies in the face of the humble stance other high-level divisions in Microsoft would like to enforce in the wake of the company’s European drubbing and the dents Apple and Google have made on its monopoly and invulnerability.

In short, the tone of these announcements has not changed, even though the times have.

Hachamovitch does an admirable job of sticking to the facts and pointing out genuine areas of interest. But he is stuck in a corporate box. A slightly more personal, down-to-earth tone would have come across as the beginnings of transparency—Web 1.1, if not Web 2.0—and a more transparent tone might have slightly reduced the percentage of flamebait in the post’s comments. (It could only have slightly reduced that percentage, because, on the internet, there is no such thing as a calm discussion of improvements to a Microsoft browser, but still.)

Although I disagree with the tone of many of the comments—rudeness to engineers is not admirable, kind, or helpful—I agree with the leading thoughts they express, which are:

  • Getting IE fully up to speed on web standards is much more important than introducing any proprietary innovations. (Naturally I agree with this, as it is, in a nutshell, what The Web Standards Project told browser companies back in 1998—and it is still true.)
  • Switching to Webkit might be a better use of engineering resources than patching IE.

On the other hand, Microsoft’s refusal to switch to Webkit gives Apple and Google a competitive advantage, and that is good because a web in which one browser has a monopoly stifles standards and innovation alike. By torturing the IE rendering engine every couple of years instead of putting it out of its misery, Microsoft contributes to the withering away of its own monopoly. That might not be good for the shareholders, but it is great for everyone else.

82 thoughts on “IE9 preview

  1. Maybe they could stun us all completely and bring out a whole new rendering engine – not based on IE or WebKit? That would be quite a scene stealer! ;)

    In the meantime, as vast numbers of people and companies still use IE by default, I’m definitely in favour of it being improved.

  2. On the other hand, Microsoft’s refusal to switch to Webkit gives Apple and Google a competitive advantage, and that is good because a web in which one browser has a monopoly stifles standards and innovation alike. By torturing the IE rendering engine every couple of years instead of putting it out of its misery, Microsoft contributes to the withering away of its own monopoly. That might not be good for the shareholders, but it is great for everyone else.

    Game, set, match.

  3. Will Web Design become cheaper when IE9 is being published? Call me naive, but why took it 12 years for MS to understand the purpos. Of Web Standards?

  4. This is what EVERYONE needs: a Web browser that allows Web designers and developers to build rich and engaging Web sites.

    Only those who actually know what a “browser” is want this, but everybody who uses the Internet and for the 60-odd-percent that still use Internet Explorer I truly hope that innovation is left out and a focus on standards is what they work on.

    Mind you, an improved Internet Explorer 9, even with webkit, wouldn’t have me switching.

  5. There’s been an interesting and fun initiative launched by a colleague here in Switzerland called Bill for Bill, which – were it to take off internationally – would show the true cost to clients and web developers of the quirky IE6.

  6. Any improvements to IE must be welcomed – it’s a behemoth which isn’t going to go away, no matter how vociferous the web community’s attitude is towards it.

    But I can’t feel like we’ve been here before. Wasn’t IE7 supposed to herald a new era for IE being a good net citizen? And IE8? Whenever I read about the specs of new releases of Microsoft’s browser, the words “partial support” keep appearing.

    There is a positive side to this though: the longer IE plays catch-up in the browser world, rather than innovating in the browser world, it will continue to loose market share, creating a more equal playing field for other browser vendors, and ergo, more fervent competition and innovation.

  7. Even the mention of a new version of ie is scaring me. I am another friendly neighborhood designer guy, serving ie6.css, ie7.css and ie8.css files.

    All I want is fast transition from the earlier versions to this one. If ie9 will be what MS claims it will, they shouldn’t let earlier versions to survive and implement this one in a “critical update”.

  8. Is there even a possibility that IE would switch specifically to WebKit (and I apologize if this is an already-discussed topic). With WebKit so widely supported by Apple and the Chrome Engine supported by Google, is there a possibility they might switch to Gecko? Of course, that brings up the question of the future viability of Gecko even.

    Basically, your post just brings up the curious point I have noticed that, “everything,” seems to be switching to WebKit, which would then have me worried that the standards cycle would start all over again and these five year tech cycles become tiresome after a while. Before we know it, you may be writing a sequel, “Designing with More Standardized Web Standards,” or something to that effect.

  9. Great overview. I haven’t followed the IE9 updates because I don’t expect to be amazed. I think it’s that-that most people are angry with. Anything short of amazement, a complete 180, and a finite disassociation with their previous ways is a disappointment.

    They’ve let IE go too far down the rabbit whole to attempt a rescue now. Alice is gone, it’s time to find a new.

  10. I don’t think that MS should ditch IE in favor of Webkit, IE8 proves that IE can still have a future, I just don’t understand why MS insists on keeping IE’s engine (Trident, is it?) closed source.

    The use case of the open-sourced Webkit chosen by Apple and Google proves that in a rapidly evolving market like the browsers market, open-source has an amazing advantage over closed source development in terms of release cycles and use of programing resources.

    I believe that if IE becomes open, only if because of the hype it will create, it will be a matter of weeks before it catches up with other browsers on important web-standards, and months before it becomes a worthy opponent to Mozilla/Webkit.

    I feel the same thing about Opera btw, the fact that it’s not open is the only thing that holds it back.

  11. I know that MS will never use Webkit because it would mean admitting Apple’s better than them at something.

    But why not just buy out Opera. They get a great browser engine, and they get to keep it closed source. And it’s got to be cheaper than trying to fix IE. Plus they get a bunch of great tech and a bunch of engineers who have proven they can perform with limited resources.

  12. Never was there a better example of “damning with faint praise” Jeffrey. I especially enjoyed your last paragraph.

    The tone with which these Microsoft browser team communiques, and indeed nearly all Microsoft output, is written is one of the major causes of my dislike for the company and it’s products. A tone of utmost contempt for any other competing product, and written in such a way (or as you say, dictated from on high) that any possible shreds of self-confidence that might be gleaned from the text is overshadowed by a distasteful superiority complex.

  13. Actually, the web is moving away again from standards. Webkit and FF rendering engine are stuffed full of proprietary properties with their own syntax, quirks and bugs.

    CSS3 gradients are a regular farce, border-radius only works in some simple cases.

    CSS files aren’t getting any cleaner now that we’re using CSS3. And in a couple of years time, depending on the Webkit/FF hype we’ll look back at the current browsers and disapprove of their crappy behavior, just as we are doing with IE6 now.

    But Apple, Mozilla and Google are the cool guys, so we seem to support their standardwrecking behavior.

  14. @Neils

    The way Webkit & FF add features is the right way, by adding a -webkit or -moz at the beginning to show that it is a work in progress and they are actually talking to each other and working on standardizing these features.

    Would you prefer that they don’t add any new features at all. They support current standards and are working together to develop new features that will become standards.

    Some features like browser radius, box-shadow etc. were only supported in one of the browsers at the beginning, but now are supported by all 3 modern rendering engines (webkit, mozilla, and opera). So these features haven’t remained proprietary for longer than a few months.

    On the other hand, IE’s filters etc. have remained proprietary for a decade.

  15. As far as I know you still have to write proprietary code for Webkit and Mozilla to make the border-radius work. Opera has no prefix, so I hope they closed down all changes to the syntax, or things will be even worse. Syntax for the border-radius is also still different for Webkit and Mozilla.

    Everybody is using them though. So yeah, I’d rather they’d kept them out of their browsers until they were actual, bonafide standards. It’s okay if they include them into the nightlies, so we can play with them for a little while, but the situation now is becomes troublesome very quickly.

    And if you want to do anything fancy with border-radius (like a different radius for each corner) you’re setting yourself up for half a chapter of non-standard css. Can’t see how that is considered progress.

    Can’t wait to look back in three years time at the css we’re writing today.

  16. @Niels

    They cannot become standards until there are atleast 2 implementations. This way they add the prefix to test it, make the changes as necessary. This way, we designers get actual input by being able to test how it works. Then when 2 or more rendering engines agree on the implementation, it is standardized.

    Also, if you don’t want to use features that aren’t finalized yet, you don’t have to. That is why the prefix exists, to let you know that these features aren’t finalized and are subject to change. Think of the prefix as a beta (or actually an alpha) release of the feature.

  17. Hi Jeffrey,

    Thanks for your post – unfortunately it links to a blog post from last November, rather than today’s news where we’ve announced much more detailed support for HTML 5 and other web standards. I’d love folk to have a look at and give us your honest feedback based on today (rather than last year :-)

    Thanks for all you’re doing to advance web standards – we’re as keen for everyone to move off IE6 as the rest of the community!

    Warm wishes,

    Tim Sneath
    Sr Director, Microsoft

  18. @Rich Quick – Thank you for the realistic comment.

    I find it amazing that web developers/designers continue to get lost in the fantasy world of web standards and forget about the general public who actually visit the sites they create.

    People like my parents, my non-technical friends, and a LOT of customers (according to the call center reports) just don’t understand or care about a lot of these things. They are using whatever browser is selected by default on their computer when they clicked the link in their HTML email message.

    And they are frustrated by the lack of flash on their iPhones, by the way.

    Web standards are great, but it doesn’t matter a whole helluva lot when the folks making the browsers don’t listen/care/follow the guidelines.

    Bottom line: Unless your site is aimed at tech folks, stick with what works. If you can get away with it, slip in some CSS3 that doesn’t screw up older browsers, and don’t use CSS that is browser dependent!

  19. That is the theory, indeed.

    But the reality is that CSS3 is the current hype and it is promoted everywhere. There are even specific sites that will output your needed css3 statements for border-radius to work in all supporting browsers.

    You know, back in the day of IE6, it was also possible to css “the good way”. But nobody did so, and that’s part of the reason why we’re in so much trouble now. The same way nobody is minding these browser-prefixes much, and littering css files with them has become “best practice”.

    That’s why I think they belong in nightlies, not in consumer releases of browsers.

  20. “Any improvements to IE must be welcomed”

    I disagree, unless the improvement is switching to a more capable web engine. The upcoming improvements are nothing more than yet another browser for web developers to take care of. So now we will have IE6, 7 ,8 and 9. Each one slightly more capable, but each one still requiring seperate testing, and with Microsoft not forcing upgrades, these versions are here to stay for a long time.

  21. @Ferdy why do we have to continue supporting IE6 at all? Let’s just consign it to history and be done with it. Anyone still using it obviously isn’t very interested in the internet, per se, so let them see dumbed-down versions of our sites

  22. I’d love to see Microsoft adopt the Gecko engine rather than webkit. At least it would build strength in the Firefox/Mozilla camp and would at least make the browser wars between just two competing render engines. This would be great for competition and would keep both camps innovating.
    I really have to say that Internet Explorer using it’s own engine is much akin to have a 3rd wheel. Oh, I guess I forgot Opera.  (but then, so has everyone else – wink)

  23. Gecko or WebKit, just anything other than the patchwork (or patchdoesn’twork) quilt of suck that is Trident.

    Again, Mr. Zeldman knocks it out of the park and says exactly what I was thinking.

  24. When it comes to rendering engines Microsoft isn’t content with reinventing the wheel — they’re trying to reinvent asphalt.
    Meanwhile, the rest of the world seems to zip about in solar-powered hover-cars.

  25. Neils,

    I just finished a project where the client wanted the main content box to have rounded corners and a shadow. Doing that for Webkit and Gecko browsers as TWO LINES of CSS. Yeah, one line would be better, but I’ll suffer with two. Your alternative would mean I would have to build a ton of non-semantic divs and hack up images to get the same effect. That’s better… how?

    The ‘don’t use it until it’s perfect’ means, in effect, ‘never use it’ because nothing’s every perfect and finished.

  26. If Microsoft would ditch IE in favor of Webkit, this would a bad thing. The more competition the better. When 3 or 4 (if you count the KDE/Webkit team) parties would be pushing webkit, it would get too much leverage.

  27. It’d be awesome if Microsoft made Trident (or, whatever is the IE 9 rendering engine, if it’s different) an open source project, in a manner similar to Gecko and WebKit. Having three great, high performance, standards compliant, web rendering engines could be a good thing in general, and could help Microsoft get out of its second-string browser funk once and for all.

    The various web standards are somewhat mob-like in their breadth and ambitions, and it seems like we’re past the era where a “managed team, alone” of web browser developers can scale to fulfill the demand for browser standards compliance, high performance, novel features, design and usability, etc. The successes of Gecko and WebKit seem to suggest that, in the 21st century, “it takes the web to help build a great web browser.”

    So, Microsoft: maybe you should let the web help you build a great web browser?

    If Trident were open sourced, Microsoft still could make proprietary (closed source) “plugins”–I think this is the Google model, with Chrome?

    So, IE, beyond Trident, could have its proprietary features for things like Active Directory authentication–and maybe even a sandboxed IE 6 compatibility plugin that could be activated only for those poor corporate intranets apps tied to the proprietary IE 6 model.

  28. Microsoft is rich enough to fund and support the development of a world-class browser. The problem is their internal culture, and their lack of focus — Microsoft is too often trying to do a half-assed job of too much, rather than a good job of a smaller set of projects.

  29. The last thing I want is more WebKit based browsers. We’ll end up with a homogeny and that’s always bad.

    The thing I’d like to see most is MS fixing rendering bugs in IE 9.1, 9.2 etc…



  30. Thanks for a clear and mature response to what is good news amidst spin.

    Many of IE8’s touted new features like suggested sites and “accelerators” seem to confuse or simply get ignored by most users I work with.

    Those users are not concerned with standards and the nuts and bolts, they just want to surf. In the same workplace, the power users that such features seem to be aimed at all choose Firefox, Safari or Chrome.

    Most IE users seem to update because of the “pushed” Windows Update patches (though you have to manually OK IE8 after being notified). Because of this I know that MS could push out whatever they want without worrying about selling new features to the non-corporate users.

    As far as resources go, the IE team should simply continue to get up-to-speed with web standards and put out a 0.5 release and not worry about pushing any glossy new features dictated by marketing. Apple’s Snow Leopard is a good example of an unusual but probably necessary clean-up release with no “new” features to speak of, but many of the optimizations were worth it when used long-term.

  31. To those asking for Trident to become OSS, I would bet there’s plenty of elements in that code covered by software patents, etc. which would prevent that.

    The idea of buying out Opera makes sense, but the chances of that are low as it would be seen as a hostile takeover of a European company who are one of MS’s most vocal critics. There’s more chance of them buying out Google.

    And as for the IE6-won’t-go-away issue, I agree. I’d like to see it gone. But the fact is you can only ignore it on a site-by-site basis. Check your logs and see how many IE6 visitors you get per month. My portfolio, for instance, doesn’t need IE6 support anymore. On the other hand, the company I work for has a group of 10 or so ecommerce sites and each of them has IE6 accounting for between 25 and 40% of visits — there is no way they can be ignored.

    It doesn’t matter why those users are using IE6 – we provide a means for them to buy our product, and the marketing dept. come up with enough user-irritating ideas (exit surveys! with a modal dialogue box!) without us shoving a banner down their throat saying ‘Get a real browser, bozo.’

    End result: ‘What’s a Browser? I just clicked on The Internet…’

    And one final example. My 65-year old dad retired from IT last year. He started out with punch cards in the 60’s. He went through the DOS years, OS/2 and Windows 2.0 – Windows 7 with a lot of stops in-between. His final job title was ‘Version Control Manager.’ Not a luddite. He knows what a browser is but only moved to Firefox a few years back when I told him why he should. He knew of the alternatives to IE but no-one had educated him and given him a reason why he should change. And he still refers to it as ‘Mot-zilla’ :)

  32. By not implementing WebKit, doesn’t that let MS do things like use ActiveX on sites and such?

    I was let down by IE8, so I am not going to buy into the hype on this one. I’ll make my sites play nice, but I’m a Chrome/Safari guy at heart.

  33. having not read any other comments, microsoft should buy opera, it’s a decent browser that is not chrome, safari or webkit anything and still a heck of a lot better than IE. Just a thought.

  34. You say that “a web in which one browser has a monopoly stifles standards and innovation alike,” and also that Microsoft should use the same rendering engine that Apple and Google use.

    Is anyone else baffled by this? Having one browser monopolize the landscape is bad because diversity is good; it’s really, REALLY confusing that you would advocate a move that would reduce diversity and give Webkit a monopoly.

  35. The trident engine will forever be playing ‘catch up’ with Webkit and Gecko. It will never be better than them in any way. How do you ‘sell’ a product to users that everyone knows is inferior? You can’t. They may as well just switch to Webkit and focus their efforts elsewhere.

  36. While MS are running behind the game its easy to overlook the fact that they hold so much market share… meaning that they are still the game in the real world to many real world users – particularly large corporations that have locked into the IE paradigm. Managers who don’t know rubbish from gold in web terms make the decision to perpetuate the IE solution because of the massive hit they would take from their IE coupled software.

    My point is that I don’t envision MS disappearing in a hurry so IE 9 is something to pay attention to whether we like the idea or not. Whatever they do, MS have invested a vast amount of time and effort building a corporate fortress of ignorant managers who are the ones making those decisions to stay with IE browser. To them it sounds sensible – they know IE and in their minds they trust IE.

    Also, don’t underestimate the generational effect of those in-house managers who make the decisions. They are of the Nescape v IE world… don’t expect much better until the new generation start moving higher in middle management.

    Just my 2 cents. Great article, Jeffrey… thought provoking.

  37. By hit to company’s IE coupled software I mean that corporate managers are not only locked into situations where extracting themselves technically from the IE lock-in of their other software applications, there is also a level of confidence they glean from having the IE browser that goes with their Outlook and their Office Suite and their current training manuals and employee comfortability. It becomes madness when some workers use IE and some Opera and some FF etc because help desk is less streamlined… so the manager is way comfortable with IE and locking everyone else out.

    MS have invested heavily into that space, so don’t expect they’ll be ousted by common sense or technical bettery.

    Win the corporate market and IE is dead… but how do you do that in the real world? Mmm interesting conundrum :)

  38. On the other hand, Microsoft’s refusal to switch to Webkit gives Apple and Google a competitive advantage

    I am afraid you may not see the forest for the trees, Jeffrey.

    The best analogy I can come up with is the metric system of measurement. Europe adopted it decades ago, and they are very happy with it. It’s very standardized, it makes much more sense, it is easier to calculate. They teach us in school that it is more practical, and that is made painfully obvious in the homework assignments that compare the two. However, for whatever reason, I continue to measure stuff in inches and pounds on a daily basis because that is what I learned first, that is what I recognize, and in the end I have a suitable way to measure. In short, the mission is accomplished through different means that are equally as effective, although a little more complex/confusing. There are any number of reasons why I should change. There are any number of reasons why I should stay.

    Now take the 90% of Internet users (who truly only give a shit about finding what they were looking for), and persuade them to switch to a whole new browser with an implied learning curve for the sheer purpose of supporting standards that makes the lives of engineers better. You can expect nothing but a middle finger; welcome to America!

    The major selling point for me, as a user, is that Internet Explorer is (and always has been) readily available, and it loads the quickest of any browser. This is a fact. People like me (who also happen to be web developers in an ironic twist of fate) try out Firefox for the first time and panic when double-clicking the icon yields a 0.656 second delay instead of 0.234 seconds that I am used to. That’s all the slower it needs to be for me to disregard. You live in New York City; you understand the price of waiting.

    As a web developer, I am very excited about the adoption of standards. As a web user, I do not care about web standards at all. It seems crazy, but that’s life.

  39. > Thus efforts to catch up to the typographic legibility and beauty of Mac OS X

    No, DirectWrite is even farther away — and therefore even better — than ClearType from Mac font rendering.

  40. And get your facts right, please. Direct2D is not a “Windows sub-pixel rendering technology” (DirectWrite is, and yes, there’s a difference), and ClearType isn’t being replaced, just improved.

  41. I’m not sure why you decided to respond to a six month old post, rather than the announcements from today. Did you do a search and neglect to check the date of the post?

    Today, MS announced that IE will support SVG, XHTML, much of CSS3, providing hardware acceleration for the graphics, support for HTML5 elements, including video –these are all a major leap forward.

    Why on earth should everyone give up and go WebKit? It’s got its own problems. I personally prefer competition, now that MS is actually back in the game, competing.

  42. IE supporting web standards is great. I’ve worked hard since 1998 to encourage that very thing, and I encourage it today. The latest news on IE’s standards performance is wonderful. My post was about Microsoft’s stance—its tone of voice, and the reason that tone rubs developers the wrong way.

    I don’t think the world should stop using Firefox and Opera, far from it. I believe in browser competition, and I’ve fought for it for twelve years. I did not mean to suggest that everyone should use Webkit, although I can see how some people drew that inference. A healthy, competitive browser market would be great. We don’t have that today. IE didn’t “win” because it was “better.” It achieved dominance because of bundling and practices that have been found by US and EU courts to have been patently anti-competitive.

    I don’t hold Microsoft’s browser engineers responsible for those anti-competitive practices but I do regret that those practices led to a web where one browser has a stranglehold on innovation. Recent standards improvements in IE7, then IE8, and now IE9 are indeed promising.

    Sorry if I mistook Direct2D for DirectWrite.

  43. I missed the IE9 presentation. From this account, it sounds almost as hyperbolic and boastful as the iPad presentation, of which I managed to stomach about 5 minutes.

  44. > Why on earth should everyone give up and go WebKit?

    No, we’re only saying that Microsoft should, and only because they are 5 plus years behind WebKit, which has been setting the pace for some years now. Microsoft uses the open source BSD Unix TCP/IP stack so they are compatible with the Internet. What’s being suggested is that they also use the open source Apple WebKit HTML renderer so that they are compatible with the modern Web and modern Web apps.

    > The more competition the better

    > I personally prefer competition

    Where is the competition? If IE’s rendering were competitive, this post would not exist. The whole point is that it’s so uncompetitive, it should be replaced wholesale with a renderer that is competitive.

    What’s worse, IE’s nonstandard render is anti-competitive above the HTML rendering level, *on the actual Web*, because it drives the cost of development up by so much. Microsoft can afford to put 1000 coders on a Web app and make multiple versions for IE, HTML5, Silverlight, ISO MPEG-4, and so on. Most publishers cannot. A 2-person team with a great idea for a Web app can build an HTML5 version by themselves with hard work and grit and no business people or funding or interference, but IE users cannot see it. Users of all other browsers and platforms can see it, but to publish for IE, the 2-person team has to get funding and a larger team both to build and maintain a much more complex version of the app that also works in IE. The reality is that a lot of those project don’t happen for just that reason, or they are corporatized as they happen. Or they fail to scale a much more complex app. It’s the same as how the cost of paper and ink going up so much caused us to have many fewer books get published.

    Also the IE renderer is anti-competitive in devices. The HTML5 Web makes it possible for anyone to create a Web tablet that can run a ton of HTML5 Web apps. But apps that are made to run in IE won’t run on there, users are driven to Windows to use those apps. That is why 15% of the Web is stuck on IE6, to run apps that were made for IE6 even though the publishers often thought they were getting Web apps.

    So the IE renderer is responsible for killing much more competition than it ever caused, and it’s not even competitive itself with other renderers. Where is the competition?

    If you value competition, you will likely value the results of a standardized IE. You’ll see a global explosion of competition in Web apps and Web browsers similar to what has happened in mobiles since iPhone. This will happen with or without Microsoft — there are 5 billion mobiles and only 1 billion PC’s — but Microsoft could be a part of it and make it happen faster by switching to WebKit now. By the time they get their own renderer caught up, the PC will be a minority on the Web.

  45. For someone who claims he champions standards how can you be anything but happy with the recent IE9 announcements. You come across just absolutely bitter.

    Switch to webkit? Why on earth would they do that?

    Do you care to refute this chart?

    Nobody supports all of the standards (Acid3 is not a standard!).

    Clearly the IE team has a reason to trumpet and be proud of their new baby. You come off sounding like sour grapes. Is your world going to come crashing down when IE9 does support all of the standards out there? BTW that day is rapidly approaching…

  46. Wow. Why do they even allow comments on the IE Blog? I can’t remember the last time I saw that much developer rage.

    I’ve stopped concerning myself with what the IE team is cooking up. It only makes me angry. They don’t listen to developers. IE is still bundled with Windows. I have little confidence that they have the ability or the will to compete with Gecko or Webkit in regards to web standards.

    IE is truly holding back the web. I believe in the web and I want to see it move forward. I want to spend my time as a developer doing things that matter, not creating workarounds for IE. I want to use new, emerging technologies without having to worry about their lack of support in this one, horrible web browser.

  47. I personally don’t believe that IE moving to Webkit is such a good idea. Although I must admit it would be nice, very nice. But this is simply short term thinking on my part.

    What happens when Webkit, like IE, has no competition for a long period of time?

    “a web in which one browser has a monopoly stifles standards and innovation alike.”

    I need to constantly remind myself of this.

    The W3C is great, but only a funnel. Without a moderator conversion can dwindle, or even get ugly. Besides, IE gave us AJAX!

  48. “No, we’re only saying that Microsoft should, and only because they are 5 plus years behind WebKit, which has been setting the pace for some years now. ”

    Poor little Firefox…struggling along…

    I remember a little over 15 years ago I believe it was, going to the MS campus to the see the roll out of a new thing called “DHTML”. At that point in time, Microsoft had gone from being a non-player, to being _the_ player when it came to innovation. As for standards support, well, the standards effort was as fractured and contentious then, as it, unfortunately, seems to be now. We never learn.

    I never count out Microsoft. I can be just as pissed at the company for sitting on its laurels (otherwise known as IE6) for far too long, as everyone else, but I also remember how fast it went from being nothing to everything.

    I’m actually looking forward to the next few years. Could be very exciting.

  49. What would be so wrong with everyone using WebKit? It’s not controlled by a single commercial interest and Chrome has shown us that using WebKit doesn’t have to mean getting the same browser. There are lots of add-on features that Apple, Google and even Microsoft can put on top of a standardized, open-source rendering engine that can still make each browser stand apart from the others. Microsoft can still tack on their Active-X stuff, etc, etc, to maintain compatibility with sites developed with IE in mind. I think it would be wonderful to be a web developer in a world where my markup and CSS looks and works the same in every browser. Then we all, including the browser makers, could focus our attention on putting more innovation into the user experience rather than wasting time on just fixing things across different browsers. It’s all such a huge waste of effort and money. It’s time we standardized the infrastructure of what has become an essential public utility and move our competitive efforts onto things that will make for better websites and online services.

  50. I disagree with everyone over the “it’s not competitive” argument. Looking at the When Can I Use charts, I see people forget even Firefox 3.0 had that poor of a score (48%). That was in 2008.
    People seem to love spewing out dates. “It’s 2010, now!”
    IE7 was still broken. IE8, though, is a perfectly reasonable browser, and could be placed in about 2007; while the current IE9 preview lies at about mid-2008, and will probably crawl to mid-to-late 2009 by the time it’s released (in 2011? Possibly).

    They’re catching up.

    Actually, I want to take a minute to make a tiny rant about Firefox. People held it up as the ideal, but it was kind of ugly and slow and not nearly as compliant as Opera (until recently) or Webkit. Everyone likes to make a fuss about MS mentioning their Acid3 score, but Firefox was the only other popular browser to not reach 100.
    All of that is being fixed; but as is so for IE.

    Yes, IE6 was horrible. Yes, IE5.5 made grown men weep in agony. And we can hate those browsers. IE7 can cause some pains, but IE8 is fairly easy to work with and I wouldn’t press people against using it. IE9 will be borderline-competetive.

    The key lesson: Never let a popular browser stagnate.
    That’s it. Just the one lesson. IE6 is that browser, but IE9 can be great.

  51. Switching to Webkit might be a better use of engineering resources than patching IE

    I can almost hear “over my dead body” coming from Redmond.

    It’s a bit strange these IE announcements; they are admitting in their actions that they have been wrong about pushing their own proprietary technology in favour of using web standards, and yet they stubbornly talk about how right they are, and how ‘on track’ they are regardless of how much catching up they still have to do.

  52. IE didn’t “win” because it was “better.” It achieved dominance because of bundling and practices that have been found by US and EU courts to have been patently anti-competitive.

    IE was able to win because of bundling, a practice that ignorant judges once considered anti-competitive but is now a-ok, because really, who the fuck ships an operating system without a web browser?

    But IE actually won because it was better than its competitors, and for a long damn time. Microsoft built a better, more innovative, more standards-compliant browser than Netscape, and then Netscape shot themselves in the foot and went broke trying to start from scratch.

    IE6 is pretty much garbage now, no question. But don’t go rewriting history just because it doesn’t favor your little team.

  53. Personally, I believe the it would be better for them to switch to webkit than just patching IE since most average or advance users don’t usually use IE.

  54. Lots of threads here, picking up on both the the blog post and some comments.

    A .If you dislike Microsoft marketing, Apple marketing should make you puke! It’s not like they play down their innovations. Every time Steve Jesus (sorry Jobs) walks on a stage he is presenting something “revolutionary”, blah, blah. Don’t get me wrong. Apple has made a great comeback from all the failed projects they had in the 90’s (Taligent, Copland….) but marketing is marketing and hyperbole is hyperbole, even if it’s from a fruit company.

    If Apple could make a comeback, maybe MS can… Its not like they are a small struggling company or anything like that. And in the time frame of 1997-2001 the showed that they could make the better product. MSIE 6 was leaps and bounds better than Netscape when it came out.

    Of course it could be wise for Microsoft to use some more open source stuff to facilitate a comeback. Apple was saved by primarily by BSD and in the case of browsers, by KHTML. Microsoft could opt in to use parts of another rendering engine, JavaScript interpreter or whatever as well. But why the obession with Webkit?

    B. To great extent Apple owes it comeback to Mozilla. It was Firefox that broke MSIE’s stranglehold of the web and introduced developer tools that made it easy to develop with standards. Webkit owes a great deal of its success to Firefox, not the other way around. The first “dents” made on the monopoly were not made by Apple and Google.

    C. Saying that Webkit is THE leading innovator is plain false. Just because there are a few toys right now that Webkit brought out first does not rewrite 5 years of history. Opera has championed more ideas for the web than Apple and so has Mozilla.

    D. The most important fight for an open web right now is how to avoid H.264 and both Apple and Microsoft are firmly entrenched on the wrong side. (Did you know that if you make a movie in Final Cut, it is OWNED by the MPEG-LA consortium and not you…) We need a strong Mozilla and a strong Opera to fight the behemoths of Apple, Microsoft and – yes in this case – even Google/Youtube. This cause won’t be helped my Microsoft adopting Webkit.

    E. I am firmly committed to standards and work on the Interact courses for WaSP, but some people need to lighten up on Acid3. The fact that Firefox – oh the horror – only score 94 is not the end of the world. I am willing to bet USD 100 that 94 % of all people screaming they want Acid3 compliance are perfectly ignorant about what is actually being tested in those 6 failing tests.

    I can show you plenty of examples of technologies that Webkit according to various support charts had first, but when Mozilla implemented them in Gecko, they saw that the spec was not clear enough and that some behaviours in Webkit were not really solid.

    A prime example is “display: run-in” that has been in Webkit a long time, but nevertheless generated lots of discussion on the CSS WG list when Mozilla started to work on it, for these exact reasons.

    Another example is CSS 3 selectors. Webkit was the 2nd browser engine (after Opera’s Presto) to pass the test on, but Gecko was the first to pass the much more thorough test on So, who really had the “first” CSS 3 selector implementation if one takes quality and completeness into account?

    Bottom line: I like the fact that Webkit experiments and move fast. But do not mistake that for being the best rendering engine.

  55. I don’t have much to contribute to this conversation other then thinking that Microsoft should just provide the simplest multi-tab, but secure, browser it could offer, and just stay clear of the browser wars – it’s already lost ground it could probably never make up, and wouldn’t be worth their time/money and effort to attempt to do so.

    But I mainly just wanted to say that the background color of this page is very irritating.

  56. Cheers to Lars Gunther.

    One more thing I’d like to add is that those remaining 15% still left using IE6 are mostly due to our own neglect. IE6 can be made to act according to the specs, if you put in the extra effort.

    Most people forced to keep using IE6 (bad apps) simply received a crappy product. We (as a group of professionals) made that product and are partly responsible for the lag of IE6 disappearance.

  57. @Rich Quick #1: Well. That is a bit flawed. People were asked this question were asked it regardless even if the used a computer at all. Actual IE usage rocks between 40% to 60% depending on who is asked. And amongst web power users IE usage drops to nothing really.

  58. “Matt” said:

    IE was able to win because of bundling, a practice that ignorant judges once considered anti-competitive but is now a-ok, because really, who the fuck ships an operating system without a web browser?

    No one, now.

    Formerly, everyone.

    Browsers were software. Paid software.

    You wanted Netscape 1.1, you bought it at CompUSA.

    And people still buy Opera.

    Microsoft decided to own the browser business by making a me-too browser and giving it away with their operating system.

    I remember when IE was better than Netscape.

    Netscape rightly tossed their non-standards-compliant rendering engine instead of patching it (as IE is still doing), and replaced it with the standards-compliant rendering engine that powers Firefox today.

    Unfortunately they lacked the resources to get this transition done quickly. (They lacked those resources because their browser was now free, as they couldn’t sell it when Microsoft was giving theirs away.)

    During the long painful transition to a standards-compliant Netscape, Microsoft threw resources at IE, and it leapfrogged ahead.

    Judges who termed this behavior anti-competitive weren’t ignorant, they were observant and accurate.

    Likewise, Apple bundles Safari with its OS because Microsoft stopped updating Internet Explorer for Mac OS in 2000.

    If Apple hadn’t built a browser for Mac users, they would have had an ever-poorer experience on the web relative to Windows users, with the result that people might stop buying Apple computers merely to get a working modern browser. Again, this would have been highly anticompetitive on Microsoft’s part. And it’s not like they were struggling in the desktop wars; they already owned 90% of the market.

    So: your point that “who the fuck ships an operating system without a web browser” ignores the ten years of history and Microsoft manipulation that today compel OS makers to include a free bundled web browser.

    Admittedly, given the ever-increasing importance of the internet in our lives, we might have ended up with bundled browsers anyway. But the way we happened to get here is important to remember.

    IE6 is pretty much garbage now, no question. But don’t go rewriting history just because it doesn’t favor your little team.

    Which little team is that, sir?

  59. i totally agree with Rich Quick most people have a hard time telling the difference between a search engine and a browser. Which in my opinion is really sad, but most people just click the “blue E” (internet explorer) and hop on the internet. I think as technology/computer increases and as it demands for more intellectually-minded people, i think people will read more into choosing a browser that performs to their expectations. But i’m not 100% confident the general public is totally there just yet.

  60. You can’t ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room – any browser Microsoft produces has to be backward compatible with IE6. Forcing a rewrite of a few billion dollars worth of internal web apps (and some very expensive SaS sites as well) is not an option for them, and a lot of those apps were written specifically for IE6. Apple never cared about backward compatibility before OS X, and they still don’t care much, which is one of the many reasons their market share is so low. Failing to support their installed base would be suicide for MS, no matter how old and out of date that base is.

    The backward compatibility button in IE8 is a decent compromise, though it still produces at least one help desk call for most users. But that wouldn’t work if they switched to Webkit, would it?

    As for their anti-competitive practices regarding web browsers, I have to disagree with some of that. By bundling IE with the OS for free, Microsoft didn’t take advantage of the internet explosion – they created it. If all we had was paid browsers, most of the world would still be running around in walled gardens created by AOL, Compuserve, and Prodigy. Not to say Bill was an angel. His intent was to turn the internet into a killer app – which he did – but also to put MS in a position where they dominated the market – which he also did.

    Ultimately, the problem is that IE6 should have been more standards compliant. Nevermind that no browser was standards compliant back then, compliance should have been one of the driving forces behind the design of the product, as it was with Windows 2003. We’re all paying for the fact that it wasn’t, but that’s water under the bridge at this point. The best we can hope for now is for MS to make their current rendering engine as modern and compliant as possible.

  61. I don’t care about what browsers there are on the market. I don’t care about how many people use Internet Explorer or Firefox.

    I care about web standards. We all care about web standards. Microsoft should acknowledge that and fix it with Internet Explorer 9.

    I wish all the browsers were exactly the same at the backend, only different at the frontend. I gives designers and developers like us a peace of mind.

    There shouldn’t even be a term like crossbrowser compatibility. There shouldn’t be a fight what browser has the best engine.

    There only should be a fight what browser is the most beautiful one.

  62. @Rindy: untrue. There are users who are consigned to IE6 or other outdated technologies because that is what their companies give them. Punishing the user because of a decision on the part of their company might feel good in the moment, but if it costs you business, it’s not a wise decision.

  63. Yeah, sorry, this article is pretty bad – a negative slant based on outdated info with dubious timing. That’s really not what I come here for. If you’re going to be in the habit of taking dubious potshots as IE for the sheer hell without knowing what you are talking about of it then you’re about as useful as some dude on Slashdot who spells Microsoft with a dollar sign. That’s not what I come here to see, and I’m pretty sure it’s not what other people want to see (if they’re smart, anyway), and I’m pretty sure you’re better than that.

  64. Microsoft finally wakes up to web standards, however late in the game and for whatever desperate reasons, and all you can do is bitch about how their marketing people are trying to do their marketing? This strikes me as particularly bitchy, Jeffrey. It reminds me of an old married couple.

    “Don’t you use that tone with me!”
    “What tone?”
    “You know very well what tone!”

    I, for one, am ready to give the Microsofties another chance. Their backs are up against the wall. They’ve been living off of corporate momentum for years now. They know the gig is up and they’re (finally) trying to do the right thing.

    Let’s let them.

  65. major problem I have always had with IE is that security has always been an issue. It also loans very slow.

    Also I don’t like it how MS double checks for windows key when upgrading IE. That prevents many users to upgrade so they use the old browsers which makes up the web developers to multi test all these latest versions of IE.

    IE should be free unconditionally regardless of if your Windows lic. is legit or not

  66. I’m cautiously hopeful. IE 8 is the first version of Internet Explorer that didn’t completely suck… and by that I mean after getting a site working in Safari/Chrome and Firefox, I don’t usually have to do any major rewrites to get IE 8 working at a decent enough level. If IE 9 stays on the same track, it should make our lives a lot easier. (Better late than never, right?)

    The biggest problem, though, isn’t with IE 8 and wont’ be fixed by IE 9. Our biggest problem is that IE 7 and 6 keep sticking around and refusing to die like a bad 80s horror villain. IE 7 isn’t so bad; it’s not dying fast enough but at least it is dying and should be gone by the end of the year. But IE 6 is a different story.

    IE 6 usage is still about 20% (NetApplications), and is dropping by only about 0.8% a month, give or take. At this rate, by April 2011 we’ll still have about 10% of Web users on IE 6, and we won’t be statistically free of IE 6 until the world ends* in 2012.

    Microsoft could fix this by pushing out the most recently available version of IE for everyone’s system as a critical update. For those Enterprise shops that really do need IE 6 for their Active-X-based intranets, give them a special standalone version of the browser. But still make people upgrade their main browsers, and make it completely seamless. (And for God’s sake, don’t limit it to authentic Windows users. You may not care about pirates, but they still use our web sites!)

    But Microsoft won’t do it.

    * The Faux-Mayan Y2K!

  67. With a third of the market share of IE 6 it is ridiculous to talk about Apple as any sort of player in the browser wars. Just silly. It doesn’t really exist on any significant level.

  68. With a third of the market share of IE 6 it is ridiculous to talk about Apple as any sort of player in the browser wars. Just silly. It doesn’t really exist on any significant level.

    Perhaps you’ve heard of iPhone, which more and more people use to access web content? Or iPad, which they soon will be using? Both of these use Safari, a browser based on open-source Webkit.

    Or maybe you’ve heard of Google Chrome, an excellent, superfast, cross-platform browser also based on Webkit and also finding its way onto Macs, PCs, and smart phones.

    The fact that some good folks are still stuck using IE6 (a browser which Microsoft itself wants our help to kill), principally at their places of employment, doesn’t mean these same people aren’t also using Firefox at home, or smartphones powered by Opera Mini, Mobile Safari, or Chrome.

    You may have intended your comment as mere trollishness but it’s a valid point to raise—reasonable businesspeople might raise it as well. And it’s important to counter these points with facts. Good web experience is no longer confined to the desktop and it is certainly not confined to IE or any other single browser.

  69. I just want to thank you on the great article. When MS finally got off its ass to produce IE7 we thought the same thing, great!, now MS seems to be up to something good. Now we have IE8 and soon IE9 yet optimal web standards supports seems just as far away as ever.

Comments are closed.